Saturday, October 31, 2015

The best thing that happens to cars is their absence

Cars. I mean their absence. That's what I like where I'm going.

This is the Big Corn Country. Or actually the Pumpkin And Turkey Country this time of the year. Anyway, today we are celebrating (?) Halloween, which means that you are supposed to dress up in a goofy outfit, yell "boo" and beg your neighbors for candy. Even if you are 45.

This also means that I should probably write about something scary. And what can be more scary to millions of Americans than a thought they could take your car away? Boo!

Cars are an extension of our lives that we seemingly can't eliminate. Why would we? They take us to places we want to go, they are comfortable, safe and the least expensive way to travel. At least that's what we want to think.

Sure, there are a few minor problems like 33,000 dead annually and the high national cost of driving everywhere. That's right. Cars may seem like an inexpensive way to travel because driving is highly subsidized so you pay extra for this privilege from your taxes, whether you like it or not.

Alright, let's say that driving everywhere is not as cheap as we would think. But no matter what, cars are here to stay, right? Modern economy needs them. If we can't eliminate all cars, maybe we could at least do something to reduce the number of road collisions? Except increased law enforcement, better road design, and reduced speed, apparently, we can soon benefit from self-driving vehicles.
Google cars drive like your grandma - they're never the first off the line at a stop light, they don't accelerate quickly, they don't speed, and they never take any chances with lane changes (cut people off, etc.).
Those who love their 5 liter V8s won't be super happy with a self-driving grandma car. But in the dense city center a driving grandma may be what we need (As long as grandma is not deaf, blind, and pays attention to the road). At least an overly cautious self-driving car won't likely run over pedestrians.

Or will it? "Many people think driverless cars could be the best thing to happen to human transportation since the internal combustion engine." And they may keep thinking that as long as those driveless cars aren't programmed to kill people.

Self-driving cars may look like a second coming in the world of transportation until we realize that they won't solve the congestion problem in city centers anyway. A driverless car is still a car and whether it carries a driver or not, it still takes the same space on the road and still requires a parking spot.

This, and the fact that city center are not made out of rubber and won't just stretch to make space for more cars, lead some city officials to opt for a drastic change - ban all private cars from the downtown. The first large city that will try that is Oslo. By 2019 the city center is supposed to be car-free despite 90,000 people going to work there every day. Instead, Oslo will offer "more than 60 kilometers (37 miles) of new bicycle lanes and a massive expansion in public transportation services". Imagine something on that scale in any large US city and you will have a national outrage: "They are taking our cars away!"
After the self-driving cars arrive, our roads will likely look like this. Better?

But if you think that Oslo is far away enough to treat this news as a curiosity only, think again. Things are changing on this side of the Great Pond as well. For starters, one of the Chicago suburbs is trying to kill the car as well.

Scary? It shouldn't be. Those of you in rural America can still keep your V8s. But for those living in dense urban centers the change is real. Face it - there simply isn't enough space on roads for all your vehicles. Living car-free may not become a lifestyle choice but a necessity. Which may not be that bad actually, considering the hassle of buying one.

Now out to get some candy...

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